US senator writes to India about ‘persecution’ of Odisha pastor in child sexual harassment case
Several months after the owner of a shelter home for children in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district was arrested amid allegations of sexual harassment by inmates, a US senator has written to India alleging the pastor has been jailed as he is a Christian.
Faiz Rehman, who ran the child shelter home in Dhenkanal district, was arrested in December last year over allegations by the inmates that he physically and sexually tortured them. Good News India Dream Centre housed 87 inmates in the age group of 5 to 16 years.
The minor girls in the shelter home had alleged that Rehman hugged, kissed and made them hold his sexual organs and whenever they raised any objection or protest, he threatened them to throw out from the house.
A case was lodged against Rehman and others under sections 354-A, 341, 323, 294, 506 read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code and section 10 of the Pocso Act.
Two other people at the shelter home who colluded with Rehman were also arrested.
As an outrage ensued, the Odisha government shut down all the 25 hostels run by Rehman in Odisha and transferred the inmates to their respective homes or orphanages.
The 50-something Rehman, who studied theology in the United States, is now in jail since December with his bail applications turned down by Orissa High Court twice - in February and August - this year.
Police submitted the charge sheet in the case on January 28 this year before a designated Pocso court and trial in the case has started.
While Rehman has not found any support in India with opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) baying for his blood, Republican senator Charles Ernest Grassley, now serving as the president pro tempore of the US Senate and representing Iowa, has spoken out for him.
In a letter to the Indian ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Grassley has expressed his apprehension that Rehman is being unjustly persecuted because of his religion as a practising Christian.
“I have been contacted by several Iowans about the case of Dr Rehman expressing their concern. Since his arrest, Dr Rehman has been denied bail and has had his trial delayed on numerous occasions,” Grassley wrote in his letter, a copy of which is available with this paper.
“I ask that your government look into Dr Rehman’s case that it be given every consideration under applicable Indian law and that it be resolved as speedily as possible,” he has written.
The ministry of external affairs had forwarded the letter to Odisha government sometime this month.
Dhenkanal’s superintendent of police Anupama James said she would not be able to comment on the case as it was now sub-judice.
Police officials, who investigated the sexual harassment case against Rehman, said the Kolkata-born pastor was baptised while he was at the Assembly of God Church School before migrating to the US.
He received a master’s degree in Christian education from Golden Gate Theological Seminary in California. He then returned to Kolkata and worked as an evangelist.
During his stay at the US, he came in contact with some NGO and after coming back to India, he formed an organisation called Happy and Holy Home Society in Salagadia, Nayagram in West Bengal’s West Medinipur district.
He then opened 25 childcare hostels in Odisha called Good News India Dream Centres. The childcare home in Dhenkanal for which he was arrested, was started in 2012.
His Good News India NGO has a board of directors in the US and is endorsed with the Northern California-Nevada District Council of the Assemblies of God.
Police officials, as well as officials of child welfare committee who investigated the case, said that the allegations against Rehman were severe.
Pratap Kumar Acharya, the chairperson of Child Welfare Committee who lodged the FIR in December last year, said the childcare hostel was totally unfit for the minor inmates.
“The food that they were being given was sub-standard. At least seven of the girl inmates gave me in writing that Rehman was touching their private parts and often kissed them much to their discomfiture,” said Acharya.
“They were beaten with shoes whenever they protested. As the children came from poor backgrounds, they kept silent. It was a house of horror,” he said.
Retired deputy superintendent of police Subash Sahoo, who investigated and submitted the charge sheet in the case, said Rehman had not observed any rules and regulations and illegally ran the Centre since 2012.
In the charge sheet, police had said that Rehman ran the institution illegally without any authority or permission from Dhenkanal’s collector under the Juvenile Justice Act.
Officials said Rehman’s bail application was first rejected in February and again in August this year on the ground that he was an influential person and if released on bail there was every possibility of him tampering with the evidence particularly when the victims are from poor families.
The HC order said that the crime committed in the case against the victims was not acceptable in a civilised society and it has its far-reaching effect and affects the peaceful life of the society.
None of his lawyers who represented him in the high court responded to HT’s message for comments.